STUDENTS benefit when a school looks after its staff. That was the message from Ripon Grammar School teachers and support workers as they enjoyed a series of healthy, relaxing, creative and energising activities at an innovative training day.
The afternoon’s pursuits ranged from meditation and yoga to dance classes, physiotherapy, massage, singing, alternative therapy consultations and a didgeridoo workshop, all provided for free by supportive local businesses.
In addition, teachers led baking, clay pot and wet felt making, cycling, walking, climbing and badminton sessions and the school opened an informal ‘Happy Café’, with home-made cakes and biscuits.
Aimed at promoting wellbeing while exploring ways in which staff can be supported in the increasingly pressurised world of education, the event, which followed training sessions on metacognition and memory recall, was praised as ‘inspirational’ by many who attended.
Food and nutrition teacher Louise Solden, who ran a bread making workshop, applauded the pioneering initiative: “Everybody is happy, it is about feeling valued and wanted,” she said.
“Teaching can be a stressful job, but if we are happy and relaxed then children are too, because they pick up on our vibes and moods. If we feel good about ourselves that comes across in the classroom. With all the constraints put on teachers and education, this is a great strength of the school."
Mindfulness expert and author Gail Donnan said it was inspiring to see a school understanding the effects of stress on staff and supporting them with activities to help connect with each other while alleviating and managing stress levels.
Mrs Donnan, who led a meditation session at the event, added: “Teaching and life today are very different to how they were only a few years ago. We are now very competitive and time-pressured. The key is to be educated about stress, to understand that it is an integral part of human survival, while managing its effects with wellbeing techniques.”
Teaching assistant Clare Davies, who enjoyed massage, singing and jive dancing classes, agreed: “Staff need looking after as well as students and it's lovely that this is being recognised. It's also a brilliant opportunity to try different activities we may well want to continue in the future.”
Deputy head Helen Keelan-Edwards, who organised the event, said good mental health and wellbeing were essential for high productivity and outcomes, with engaged and cared-for staff much better able to fully support the pupils in their care.
“Teaching is an extremely rewarding yet challenging profession. And we need to ensure our staff - who dedicate so much time and effort to delivering a rich and engaging curriculum - are happy and have good mental health. It is important to care about their welfare, as well as the welfare of students.”
Many enthusiastic participants said they hoped the initiative could be developed further. Director of music Edward Seymour, who made bread and enjoyed a walk along the Ripon canal, said: “It has been wonderful and should be in the timetable every half term.”
He added: “If you enter the profession with any sense of passion for your subject, it is inevitably going to be a stressful job. But it has been relaxing to spend time with colleagues and not have to talk about work.”
Design and technology technician Stuart Whitehead, who is new to the school, agreed. He deliberately chose activities, including singing and jive, which he’d never tried before.
“I have got to know a lot of other members of staff and seen things in a new light,” he said. “People have been excited and talking about it, it’s very positive and inclusive, the sort of thing which puts a smile on people’s faces.”
Physics teacher Liz Green, who signed up for a physiotherapy assessment and having her hair curled, said she was extremely appreciative: “It’s brilliant. Teaching can be very intense at times and if we can’t take care of ourselves we can’t take care of students. We always put students first, and that’s the way it should be. But we don’t want to do it to our detriment.”
Teaching assistant Carrie Prideaux, who enjoyed climbing and yoga classes, summed up the afternoon: “We rush around all day and don’t really have time to sit and chat and relax and do fun things, it can be quite a stressful environment. But this is fabulous, a good bonding experience which has boosted everyone’s morale and taken our mind off day-to-day things.”